What is Insulin, and How Does It Work?

What is Insulin, and How Does It Work?

by Bryn Fest

If you have diabetes, it’s important to know about insulin. First, you need to understand how it works to manage your disease effectively. So what is insulin? In textbooks, insulin is categorized as a hormone. It’s produced by an organ located behind your stomach and just below your rib cage, known as your pancreas. Insulin helps move glucose (or sugar) from the food you eat into your body’s cells, where it can be used as fuel for energy or stored away until needed.

How Does Insulin Work?

Your body uses glucose, a type of sugar, for energy. Normally, your pancreas releases insulin to help process any excess glucose in your blood. With diabetes, your body either doesn’t produce enough insulin or can’t properly use what you have in your system. To get glucose into cells (including muscle cells), you need healthy insulin levels. Here are the main types of insulin:

Basal Insulin

To keep blood sugar levels steady between meals, your body releases a type of insulin that’s called basal. Basal-release insulin, or basal-acting insulin, refers to several different forms of injected rapid-acting insulins: lispro (brand name Humalog), aspart (NovoLog), glulisine (Apidra), and regular. These release insulins are long-acting because they take effect quickly but last for 24 hours.

Bolus Insulin

To keep your blood sugar levels stable, you’ll need to boost a certain amount of insulin at least 30 minutes before a meal. To determine your exact need, use a basal-bolus calculator like the one that comes with Tandem Diabetes Care’s t:slim® Insulin Pump. The calculator determines your pre meal glucose level, as well as your carbohydrate intake. When used with Tandem’s pump, IQ automatically administers pre-meal boluses at 20 percent above or below your usual mealtime bolus based on your activity level.

Nighttime Insulin

This type of insulin, also called NPH or isophane, works best at night when your blood sugar tends to be higher than during the day. At night, your pancreas releases more NPH insulin into your bloodstream to keep your blood sugar levels in check while you sleep. This type of insulin lasts longer than regular (R) during sleep.

Ways to Administer Insulin

The most common ways to administer insulin are either through injections, pens, inhalers, or an infusion pump. Each has its pros and cons; if you’re having trouble managing your blood sugar levels, ask your doctor which type might be best for you. However, you have to learn how to use them properly and keep up with their usage throughout each day. This means checking in with yourself frequently—which ultimately makes self-management easier but less convenient.

Bottom line: If you’re just starting out managing diabetes (or know someone who is), a pen may be a good place to start as there’s no learning curve involved once you get started.

Insulin works by decreasing your blood sugar levels. It helps move glucose from your bloodstream into your body’s cells, where it can be used for energy or stored in other ways, such as glycogen. If you have type 1 diabetes, you need to take insulin because your body cannot produce any on its own. Type 2 diabetes is usually managed with a combination of diet and exercise along with prescribed medications, including insulin.

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